June 16, 2019

The Coming Roman Catholic Collapse?

If the structure of clericalism is not dismantled, the Roman Catholic Church will not survive, and will not deserve to.

James Carroll

• • •

James Carroll, former priest from the Vatican II era, Boston Globe columnist and author, has written a devastating and poignant call for a complete reformation of the Roman Catholic clerical system in Vanity Fair.

He begins with a retrospective of the coming to light of the Catholic priest sex abuse scandals and the cover ups that “will produce an avalanche of scandal for years to come.” Carroll worked in tandem with the “Spotlight” team at the Boston Globe, producing more than a dozen articles about the scandal on the op-ed page. And yet Carroll remained a practicing Catholic until the summer of 2018, placing almost a “desperate hope” in Pope Francis to lead a real reform in the church.

Then he made a personal choice.

For the first time in my life, and without making a conscious decision, I simply stopped going to Mass. I embarked on an unwilled version of the Catholic tradition of “fast and abstinence”—in this case, fasting from the Eucharist and abstaining from the overt practice of my faith. I am not deluding myself that this response of mine has significance for anyone else—Who cares? It’s about time!—but for me the moment is a life marker. I have not been to Mass in months. I carry an ocean of grief in my heart.

James Carroll continues his article with a heartfelt appreciation of the virtues of the Catholic faith and the sacrificial love and service by which legions of “selfless women and men care for the poor, teach the unlettered, heal the sick, and work to preserve minimal standards of the common good.”

Like many idealistic and dedicated Catholics of his era, he had hoped that the changes brought about through Vatican II would put the church on a new path of revival and reformation. Carroll became a Paulist priest, a devoted advocate of Pope John’s vision, codified in the Council, that the church was from now on to be defined as “the People of God,” with liturgical reforms and a redefining of the clerical role as “servants” among God’s people rather than as rulers over them.

However, as Carroll notes, the church was only able to deal symbolically with a core issue of the institution. It led to his leaving the priesthood.

What Vatican II did not do, or was unable to do, except symbolically, was take up the issue of clericalism—the vesting of power in an all-male and celibate clergy. My five years in the priesthood, even in its most liberal wing, gave me a fetid taste of this caste system. Clericalism, with its cult of secrecy, its theological misogyny, its sexual repressiveness, and its hierarchical power based on threats of a doom-laden afterlife, is at the root of Roman Catholic dysfunction. The clerical system’s obsession with status thwarts even the merits of otherwise good priests and distorts the Gospels’ message of selfless love, which the Church was established to proclaim. Clericalism is both the underlying cause and the ongoing enabler of the present Catholic catastrophe. I left the priesthood 45 years ago, before knowing fully what had soured me, but clericalism was the reason.

In arguing against the clerical system of the Roman Catholic Church, he marshals a historical argument against it, stating that, in the days of the Emperor Constantine, the organizational structure of the church was transformed from a more egalitarian community into an institution modeled after the patterns of the Roman Empire.

But under Emperor Constantine, in the fourth century, Christianity effectively became the imperial religion and took on the trappings of the empire itself. A diocese was originally a Roman administrative unit. A basilica, a monumental hall where the emperor sat in majesty, became a place of worship. A diverse and decentralized group of churches was transformed into a quasi-imperial institution—centralized and hierarchical, with the bishop of Rome reigning as a monarch. Church councils defined a single set of beliefs as orthodox, and everything else as heresy.

At about the same time, the influence of Augustine’s theology, which posited sex as a root of all evil, led to a tightening of the reins within the church. Celibacy, which had emerged in ascetic forms of the faith as a means of engaging God more intimately, developed an almost cult-like status, devaluing the body and the earthiness of faith, separating into classes those who practiced it and those ordinary folks who didn’t. James Carroll notes that there were pragmatic considerations as well.

In the Middle Ages, as vast land holdings and treasure came under Church control, priestly celibacy was made mandatory in order to thwart inheritance claims by the offspring of prelates. Seen this way, celibacy was less a matter of spirituality than of power.

As a result,

The Church’s maleness and misogyny became inseparable from its structure. The conceptual underpinnings of clericalism can be laid out simply: Women were subservient to men. Laypeople were subservient to priests, who were defined as having been made “ontologically” superior by the sacrament of holy orders. Removed by celibacy from competing bonds of family and obligation, priests were slotted into a clerical hierarchy that replicated the medieval feudal order.

Today, Carroll observes, the strongest opposition to Pope Francis has come from those most devoted to the structure of clericalism. This is so bound up with sexuality, that any attempt to loosen the church’s teachings, such as readmitting the divorced and remarried to the sacrament of Communion has been fiercely opposed. Simply put, the very power structure of the church — rule by clerics — depends upon keeping a very strict code in place regarding sexuality, which includes a male-only priesthood and the requirement of celibacy. This code is enforced by the hierarchy, which has historically had little accountability to anyone save themselves.

But perhaps we are seeing evidence that this strict code, this law, as it were, is doing exactly what the Apostle Paul said it would do when he wrote that the law serves to arouse and stimulate one’s sinful passions rather than keep them in check (Romans 7:5). And when that law is embedded in a system that provides cover, secrecy, and the incentive to hide breaches of the law, James Carroll’s conclusion is all but certain: “A power structure that is accountable only to itself will always end up abusing the powerless.”

He is certainly not saying that all priests are sexual abusers. But he also thinks that one of the reasons so many other priests and church officials have looked away and resisted investigation may be because they too have violated their vows of celibacy in other significant ways.

Furthermore, there is a pervasive theological culture, James Carroll suggests, which is continually reminding priests of their unworthiness — “a guilt-ridden clerical subculture of moral deficiency [that] has made all priests party to a quiet dissembling about the deep disorder of their own condition.” This does not lend itself to a healthy view of self and others and it eviscerates the possibility of accountability. It led James Carroll to believe that “the very priesthood is toxic.”

Nor are the laity immune from criticism. The same theological culture has led multitudes of Catholics to simply ignore the church’s teachings on contraception, divorce and remarriage, and other matters related to human sexuality. In Carroll’s words, “Catholics in general have perfected the art of looking the other way.”

In response, James Carroll call for nothing less than a new Reformation, marked by taking seriously Vatican II’s definition of the church as the People of God.

What if multitudes of the faithful, appalled by what the sex-abuse crisis has shown the Church leadership to have become, were to detach themselves from—and renounce—the cassock-ridden power structure of the Church and reclaim Vatican II’s insistence that that power structure is not the Church? The Church is the people of God. The Church is a community that transcends space and time. Catholics should not yield to clerical despots the final authority over our personal relationship to the Church. I refuse to let a predator priest or a complicit bishop rip my faith from me.

The Reformation, which erupted 500 years ago, boiled down to a conflict over the power of the priest. To translate scripture into the vernacular, as Martin Luther and others did, was to remove the clergy’s monopoly on the sacred heart of the faith. Likewise, to introduce democratic structures into religious governance, elevating the role of the laity, was to overturn the hierarchy according to which every ordained person occupied a place of superiority.

…Replacing the diseased model of the Church with something healthy may involve, for a time, intentional absence from services or life on the margins—less in the pews than in the rearmost shadows. But it will always involve deliberate performance of the works of mercy: feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, visiting the sick, striving for justice. These can be today’s chosen forms of the faith. It will involve, for many, unauthorized expressions of prayer and worship—egalitarian, authentic, ecumenical; having nothing to do with diocesan borders, parish boundaries, or the sacrament of holy orders. That may be especially true in so-called intentional communities that lift up the leadership of women. These already exist, everywhere. No matter who presides at whatever form the altar takes, such adaptations of Eucharistic observance return to the theological essence of the sacrament. Christ is experienced not through the officiant but through the faith of the whole community. “For where two or three are gathered in my name,” Jesus said, “there am I in the midst of them.”

Simply summarized, according to James Carroll: “If the structure of clericalism is not dismantled, the Roman Catholic Church will not survive, and will not deserve to.”

Comments

  1. Rick Ro. says

    Thanks for sharing this. It’s difficult for me to see Jesus in what the Roman Catholic Church has established.

    • Christiane says

      I have no problem with Francis. I think he teaches by example.

      https://www.ncronline.org/sites/default/files/styles/article_slideshow/public/stories/images/DisfiguredMan.jpg?itok=cerWemjF

      There is a move to attack Francis because he does not align with the far-right, but I think rather than the attack coming from within the Church so much, it will come from this man:

      https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/13/steve-bannon-matteo-salvini-pope-francis-is-the-enemy

      Steve Bannon is being bankrolled by some heavy hitters and likely many will flock to his side and follow him. But I’m not worried for Francis or for the Church. One thing I do know is that Francis won’t be hollering ‘I’m being persecuted’. He knows to expect the attacks of all of the Steve Bannons, the attacks from such people must come against it or it wouldn’t be ‘the Church’. 🙂

      • Christiane, if only it was just Bannon. He has members of the hierarchy on his side, which is truly disturbing.

        I think Carroll is right. The hierarchical system has got to go – and in recent decades, there have been way too many efforts to roll back the reforms of Vatican II. If only the whole question of allowing priests to marry had been discussed then (as I’m sure you know, it nearly was), i think there might have been an effort to dismantle corrupt power structures within the church.

        If i was born and raised Roman Catholic, i doubt I’d be wanting to stick with the institutional church today. It must be so hard for so many people, agonizing over staying or going, given the continuing flood of abuse cases, damning facts from grand jury investigations like the one here in PA, etc.

        From what i saw and heard when i boarded at a small convent for a year (an unusual situation, but a very good one!), the diocese where we all lived had never wanted to treat women as anything close to equals, and was swift to punish women religious who had their own ideas about ministry and much more. Some of the women in that convent paid a very high price for their convictions – which should never have happened, but…

        It really sickens me to think about the way that women (both lay and religious) have taken on SO much pastoral work since the early 70s – and never been recognized for it, let alone encouraged and held up as examples of faith and compassion in action. There is so much that’s wrong, and it’s been deeply embedded for centuries upon centuries. Unless people are willing to turn all of that upside down, things will never chsnge, and people will continue to do what Carroll has been doing.

        It is all so horrifying, not least because it’s unnecessary. (The wrongness discussed above, that is.) But sometimes the only thing a person can do is shoulder their knapsack and move on.

        • Christiane says

          Hello Numo,

          I think there is a movement underfoot to get rid of ‘church’ as an institution, at least among some in our American christianity. With all the troubles in the various churches, I can see the temptation to ‘walk away’, to ‘wash our hands’ of the difficulties and challenges. Of course, I can see the appeal, especially to those who have been wounded and discouraged.

          But there is something else going on that is trying to take advantage of the situation, and that ‘something else’ is NOT what I’m willing to see take over ‘in the place of’ the Church as we know it, even from our various ‘denominations’, even there, the force is at work to destroy . . . . .

          I mentioned Steve Bannon. But the work of the people I’m talking about goes back further and incorporates some very strange ideas of establishing a power structure not unrelated to Christian dominionism, which is not ‘Christian’ but certainly about domination and power and control. That’s the kind of ‘force’ I see at work that is terrifying to me. And I’ll take old Pope Francis over those monsters any day.

          Good thing we can’t see too far into the future, and ‘changes’ are coming, but one thing about the traditional ‘Church’ is that it holds together in the face of changes, somewhat bedraggled, but still at full sail through the millenia. There’s a permanance and a steadiness about this, that I think we still need, although without all the weaknesses we are heirs to in our common need of God’s mercy.

          There is something such as the ‘collegiality’ of ‘the Church’ as ‘Body of Christ’ that I think is real and provides a steadiness that keeps ‘the Church’ (the whole Church) going. And I think we need that steadiness in this world as a force for good against that THING that Bannon is pushing which I know is coming and no mistake. But I think ‘the whole Church’ will survive the Steve Bannons of this world, because the ‘whole Church’ is anchored in what Steve Bannon does not have the power to destroy. Credo.

        • Robert F says

          The Roman Catholic hierarchy is doing what priests have always done — protecting their monopoly on the sacred mysteries. They will fight to hold onto that monopoly and the power it involves until the bitter end, and even if that results in Carroll’s prediction of the demise of the Roman Catholic Church. The raid of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas conducted by Dallas police this last week as part of their the investigation of hundreds of credible clerical sexual abuse cases in the state of Texas sadly shows how much the clerical monopoly of power in the Church has created a Mafia-like culture of secrecy and corruption. Bannon, odious as he is, did not create that culture; he is merely exploiting it.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > Bannon, odious as he is, did not create that culture; he is merely exploiting it.

            Yep.

            The missed answer was not to be so exploitable. And nobody should know this better than a professional clergy. This is an Epic-Fail on behalf of the Catholic Church, it is on them. Criticizing Bannon for this [and he is a disgusting human being] is criticizing a wolf for following the blood trail – that’s what a wolf does.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > The hierarchical system has got to go

          The question I wonder, and I am skeptical, is whether doing so takes the whole institution with it. Sadly, I am pretty confident the answer is yes; which will also carry a terrible cost for many people. Much will be lost.

          I cannot help think of the adage: the worst possible out come for a revolutionary is to succeed. That’s when you have to start putting things back together.

          > If only the whole question of allowing priests to marry had been discussed then

          And then what? Minus the clergy how will the Catholic Church be operationally distinct from the Protestant church?

          “””celibacy was made mandatory in order to thwart inheritance claims”””

          My observations in Evangelical/Protestant churches – – – this is still a real problem. A Protestant/Evangelical church cannot hire a Pastor – they are hiring his/her spouse and children, because being a Pastor is distinct from most jobs. And if one makes it too much like just another job… It is a mess; for the church, for the spouse, and especially for the children. There is a whole lot of head-in-the-sand on that side of the river as well.

          🙁 🙁 🙁

        • Robert F says

          Btw, I think Carroll is wrong if he thinks the real problems in the Roman Catholic Church that he is discussing will lead to its eventual demise worldwide. That can only happen in places where the clerical abuses of Catholic clergy may be and are freely investigated by government authorities, and though that may be the case in the U.S. and some other places, it is certainly not so in many other regions around the world.

      • Christiane,

        There was an article in Sojourners Magazine a couple of months ago about the rise of the Catholic Right. Mentions Bannon briefly.
        https://sojo.net/magazine/march-2019/rise-catholic-right

        • Christiane says

          Thanks for the link, TED.

          the wolf Bannon is ‘on the prowl’ (frown face)

          seriously, he is capable of encouraging some very destructive behaviors and he has a huge financial backing to support his attack on Francis . . . . it looks like Francis has been for some time a target of the extreme right . . . . my guess is that the ‘Catholic right’ is more politically oriented than it is religious, as the support for Bannon comes from political extremists on the right

    • Steve Newell says

      Rick, I would agree and add that I don’t how America “evangelicals” created a white American Republican Jesus as well. Both are wrong.

  2. senecagriggs says

    Google – pope benedict criticizes pope francis

    Some interesting takes

    • Oh, interesting all right. That letter totally ignored the coverup portion of the scandal, and placed the entire blame for the abuse crisis on the Sexual Revolution. I have always thought Ratzinger was overrated as a theologian – that letter confirmed it to me.

      But bringing this back to the OP, what was really interesting and distressing was the comments made by self-confessed traditional Catholics and supporters of Ratzinger in articles about that letter. Their hostility – in some cases, downright *hatred of* – Vatican II was palpable. They think VII was the worst thing to happen to the Catholic Church since Martin Luther. And that doesn’t bode well for the kind of reforms spoken of here.

      • Robert F says

        Fundamentalism is alive in well in parts of the Catholic Church. Some of the most influential and respected Catholic scholars were among those who recently called for a heresy investigation of pope Francis.

  3. Pastor Mac says

    A couple things come to mind here that are lurking in the background. Trent & the Magisterium. The Council of Trent made very specific declarations about sacramental theology with Aquinas (and, by extension, Aristotle) as a principal source. As Trent was considered a general council whatever declarations were made became immutable and unchanging as now part of the teaching magisterium. The magisterium simply cannot be altered. No council can be convened to contradict established magisterial teaching. No pope can upend magisterial doctrine. And, consequently, if one is in fellowship w/ the Patriarch & Bishop of Rome then one’s belief is defined by Roman teaching. One is not allowed to be a “buffet Catholic”. Any cursory reading of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says this. I honestly don’t understand how us moderns think that Rome will somehow “decide” to turn itself upside down because it isn’t allowed to.

    • Josh in FW says

      +1

    • Christiane says

      the ‘steadiness’ of the Catholic Church is as much of a strength as it is a problem . . . the Church does provide stability and has deep historical and cultural roots in Western Europe and shares much with the Eastern Church as well

      for those who don’t have ‘patience’, the Church does seem to drag along and be weighed down with traditions, but every now and then, it surprises the world in a good way

      the tragedy of sex abuse among the priesthood is and always will be the most terrible shame that keeps the Church humbled in that more was not done to stop abuses once perpetrators were identified . . . . no excuses exist for what happened,
      and it doesn’t for one moment make a ‘difference’ that the same behaviors have turned up in other faith communities, even among evangelical/fundamentalists . . . if anything the witness of the Church is even further damaged . . . . there are no words for the depth of the suffering of innocents . . . . God have mercy

  4. As a post evangelical, I have kept up with great interest both Pope Frances and Pope Benedict. My biggest fear is not collapse, all indications are the RC church is stronger and growing more than ever, at least outside North America and Europe.

    Long term, definitely, all male dominated hierarchical organizations have abuse, if not sexual than financial and ethical. I have seen this repeatedly in both the corporate world and the evangelical world. Short term, the RC doesn’t have a quick solution. Pope Frances has differentiated the celibacy issue from the male priest issue. From my limited understanding, celibacy is not necessarily an unchangeable church teaching but male priesthood is. Those more familiar with RC could explain more. Pastor Mac’s comment “No pope can upend magisterial doctrine.” explains it best. The complicated problem (which may take centuries to resolve) is to re-organize the church within the 2000 year magisterial doctrine system.

    The worst of all worlds would be the RC to lose it history and became like the disaster of the evangelical world.

    The sacraments have been what kept me in Christianity, but with the RC rules on who can and cannot receive the Eucharist, I decided to join a mainline with universal Eucharist.

    • Robert F says

      As you say, the Roman Catholic Church is stronger than ever around the world in places outside North America, Western Europe, and European outposts like Australia/NZ, and for essentially the same reasons that most mainline Protestant denominations and Pentecostalism are strong in those places as well. Unfortunately, whatever its particular flavor, Christianity in many places around the world where it is stronger than ever is moving in a retrogressive direction, reinforcing its history of misogyny, anti-homosexuality, clerical abuse of various kinds, and coziness with repressive political regimes. If the current crop of so-called conservative prelates is successful in pressing their heresy charges against Francis, and in reversing whatever improvements have been made as a result and in the wake of Vatican II, then the international Roman Catholic Church in the future will embrace the worst, most inhuman and inhumane facets of its pockmarked history rather than the most liberative ones.

    • Christiane says

      The ‘RC’ is not ‘the Catholic Church’ in its entirety, no.

      Please know that the Catholic Church has many ‘rites’ (liturgical and historical traditions), not just the Roman Rite.
      Here is a list of all the ‘rites’ that are in the Catholic Church, and yes, they are ‘in union with’ the Pope in Rome:

      Latin (Western) rites
      Main articles: Latin liturgical rites and Latin Church
      Extant:
      Roman Rite
      Ordinary Form (1969 revision)
      Glagolitic Rite
      Extraordinary Form (According to the 1962 Roman Missal)
      Personal Ordinariates (celebrate Divine Worship, a liturgy adapted from Anglican tradition)
      Zaire Use
      Gallican Rites
      Ambrosian Rite (in Milan, Italy, and neighbouring areas)
      Braga Rite
      Mozarabic Rite (in Toledo and Salamanca, Spain)
      Lyonese Rite (in Lyon, France, maintained in a few parishes)
      Catholic Order Rites
      Benedictine Rite
      Carmelite Rite (only by some communities or members of the order)
      Carthusian Rite (a Western rite of the Gallican family)
      Cistercian Rite
      Dominican Rite (only by some communities or members of the order)
      Premonstratensian (Norbertine) Rite
      Rites in a broad sense (not distinct from the Roman Rite)
      Capuchin Rite
      Franciscan Rite
      Servite Rite

      Eastern rites
      Main article: Eastern Catholic Churches
      Extant:
      Byzantine Rite
      Antiochene family
      Maronite Rite
      West Syriac Rite
      Syro-Malankara Rite
      East Syriac or Chaldean tradition
      Chaldean Rite
      Syro-Malabar Rite
      Armenian Rite
      Alexandrian Rite
      Coptic Rite
      Ge’ez Rite

      In addition:
      particular churches sui iuris sorted by liturgical traditions
      Latin liturgical tradition:
      Latin Church
      Alexandrian liturgical tradition:
      Coptic Catholic Church
      Ethiopian Catholic Church
      Eritrean Catholic Church
      Antiochian liturgical tradition:
      Maronite Church
      Syriac Catholic Church
      Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
      Armenian liturgical tradition:
      Armenian Catholic Church
      East Syriac or Chaldean liturgical tradition:
      Chaldean Catholic Church
      Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
      Byzantine liturgical tradition:
      Albanian Greek Catholic Church
      Belarusian Greek Catholic Church
      Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church
      Greek Catholic Church of Croatia and Serbia
      Greek Byzantine Catholic Church
      Hungarian Greek Catholic Church
      Italo-Albanian Catholic Church
      Macedonian Greek Catholic Church
      Melkite Greek Catholic Church
      Romanian Greek Catholic Church
      Russian Greek Catholic Church
      Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church (also known in the United States as the Byzantine Catholic Church)
      Slovak Greek Catholic Church
      Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

      Here’s the link:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_particular_churches_and_liturgical_rites#Latin_(Western)_rites

      The different ‘rites’ and ‘particular Churches’ within the ‘Catholic Church’ are historical, and complex.
      Celibacy is a feature of the Latin Rite (Roman).

  5. Carrol fears a collapse if the RC church doesn’t change, but the changes he is advocating would basically make the RC church just like some variation of Protestant churches, thus basically ending the RC church. I understand why he quit going to mass, but he really could just go to a mainline church and get what he is looking for.

    • “Carrol fears a collapse if the RC church doesn’t change, but the changes he is advocating would basically… end the RC church.”

      Maybe that’s what needs to happen, regardless of what it turns into.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        So the RCC can join in The Coming Evangelical Collapse as well?

    • Robert F says

      Carroll was a practicing Catholic until 2018. Leaving the Church is a hard choice for those who have been participating members of it for decades; it is a carrier of profound theologies and spiritualities, of culture, subcultures, art, music, poetry, a kind of civilization within civilization. One may choose to continue identifying as Catholic because one loves the Church, while witnessing to its evils by a chosen and public self-exile and estrangement; this too may be understood as a way of being faithful to the Church, and I believe this is the way Carroll understands his relationship to the Church. He continues to consider himself Catholic, but he is refusing to let the religious hierarchy define the terms of his Catholic identity. He is also working out how to best live out his spiritual heritage and religious identity — this may require a season in the wilderness for a disillusioned Catholic, just as it did and does for many of the post-evangelicals and estranged evangelicals here at iMonk.

    • Robert F says

      The Church has mostly forgotten or covered over the fact that initially the Desert Fathers and Mothers, who were almost entirely lay-people, were a movement of rejection of and flight from not only the newly Christianized Roman civilization, but of the hierarchical Church itself, which the movement considered to be just as corrupt as the secular society. It would be wrong to think that in removing themselves from participation in corporate liturgies, from sacraments and priests, by their flight into the wilderness they were rejecting the Church as the Body of Christ; it is just as wrong to think that by absenting himself from Mass and the official activities of the Church Carroll is choosing not to be Catholic.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > make the RC church just like some variation of Protestant churches, thus basically ending the RC church

      Yep, and what the world needs is yet another one of those.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Replacing Rosaries with $65 a pop Donald Trump Prayer Coins sounds like a REALLY bad idea, but factor in Entropy over Time and that’s what “another one of those” would become.

  6. senecagriggs says
  7. I live in a smaller city in mid Michigan. The Episcopal church just let its priest go because they only had 25 members. The ELCA Lutheran Church just let its pastor go because they only had 37 people. The Catholic Church has 1,800 members and has not declined much since all the scandals. Downturn yes but the Church compared to the Protestants isn’t in danger of closing and I think that Carrols dire prediction won’t come true. Perhaps he can just become an Episcopal or Lutheran priest.

    • Robert F says

      Whatever your experience in your city, the facts are incontrovertible: the Roman Catholic Church is losing members in large numbers in the U.S, in as large a percentage as the mainline Protestant denominations. Of course, because there are so many Catholics, it is less visible than loss among Protestant mainlines, particularly in city parishes. But if being ex-Roman Catholic were a religion, it would be the fastest growing one in America. But I do agree with you that worldwide membership in the RCC is doing quite well, as it is in all forms of Christianity, and that Carroll is wrong in thinking that the international Catholic Church is in danger of demise.

  8. It is always sad when someone feels betrayed by their chosen church and leaves. Abolishing the priesthood doesn’t solve the problem of clericalism or of mishandled power or a hidden culture — all we have to do is look at what is happening in the SBC. However, I think most Catholics feel that reform is needed; we can’t keep going as we are, from abuse crisis to abuse crisis, but there needs to be a rethinking of how ministry is conducted, and who conducts it. The cries of making the Catholic Church more Vatican II is a lost hope, because for people in the pew, that is dead, in fact, probably the dustiest book in Catholic libraries is “The Documents of Vatican II”, and this despite the efforts of John Paul II & Benedict, who were at the Council itself. It’s been over fifty years since the close of Vatican II, and here we are, still fighting over how it’s to be implemented. How to “solve” the problem is beyond the scope of Pope Francis, as he’s 82, and it will under the next Pontiff that the real fight will begin.

    • Robert F says

      Carroll himself has not left the Roman Catholic Church. He intends to work as a force of reform in it, and he intends not to let the religious hierarchy define his identity as a Catholic on the basis of compliance with the rules and regulations that they created. He says as much in the linked article.

    • senecagriggs says

      ” How to “solve” the problem is beyond the scope of Pope Francis, as he’s 82, and it will under the next Pontiff that the real fight will begin.”

      MATTHEW, ANY CHANCE YOU CAN EXPLAIN THAT? WHY WOULD THE REAL FIGHT BEGIN WITH THE NEXT POPE [ who will also be elderly?]

      • I think the Francis is too compromised over clerical abuse in Latin America, where his record is a disaster. I think the next Pope will be younger than expected, to my mind, the situation is parallel to when John Paul I died, there was a felt need for a younger, more dynamic presence to be Pope, and to the surprise of all, John Paul II was elected. It just seems like everyone is looking for younger, with less baggage.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      “””Abolishing the priesthood doesn’t solve the problem of clericalism or of mishandled power or a hidden culture”””

      +1,000.

      Additionally, anti-institutionalism won’t work either. Abolishing one institution merely – AND ALWAYS – auto-creates a second one. Being anti-institutionalist in the modern world, on a planet of 7+ BILLION people, is absurd, at best.

      • Robert F says

        Modification of the priesthood, what it means and the powers and privileges it confers, is absolutely necessary for meaningful reform. That partly means the sacerdotal gap between laity and clergy must be reduced, and there need to be far more bridges back and forth across it. The way this is partly effected in the sacramental dimension in the Anglican Communion is that an ordained priest cannot celebrate the Eucharist in isolation and alone, but only in the gathering of believers, since her priesthood derives from and inheres in the priesthood of the whole people of God. In this way, sacramental power is shared in an administrative way, and so the power of the priesthood is not hoarded but cooperative. This is one means to diffuse sacerdotal power, without abolishing the ordained priesthood. There is no reason why the RCC could not adopt this same understanding and practice, and I’m sure there are other means toward power-sharing that would increase the dignity, power, and privileges of the laity vis a vis the clergy in the Roman Catholic system without abolishing the institutional priesthood.

        • Robert F says

          Correction: There is no reason the RCC can’t implement power-sharing strategies between clergy and laity, except that they won’t, because the religious hierarchy doesn’t want to share power, it wants to be secretive, and it wants not to be questioned or held to account by the laity. Pope John XXIII wanted to throw open the windows of the power structure to let the light and wind of the Spirit in, by way of including the laity more in the power and prerogatives of the Church — that was the purpose of Vatican II; but a powerful and resurgent faction wants to slam those windows shut as tightly as possible, and pull down the shades.

          • Robert F says

            The supreme irony is that this reactionary faction of prelates is trying their damnedest to lay the current sex abuse crisis in the RCC at the feet of Catholic liberals and the “liberalization” of the Catholic Church, in the hopes of purging progressives from the Church, and consolidating their own secretive, power-hoarding hold on its institutions. And they just may succeed.

            Now I’ll stop, and hold my tongue …. at least I’ll try. This subject touches a raw nerve in me.

            • It’s not so much liberals that are being blamed for the sex abuse crisis, but what a number of Catholic writers blame the crisis on, is homosexuality, and what is being called “The Lavender Mafia” that “controls” different chanceries thought out the world. Granted YMMV on what you think about that interpretation, but it’s out there, and very prevalent.

              • Robert F says

                Yes, well, the “liberalization” of the Church is not really separated by the reactionaries from a more permissive attitude toward sexuality and sexual orientation. It’s all one enchilada, whether they use the words liberal and liberalization or not.

                • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                  Yes, well, the “liberalization” of the Church is not really separated by the reactionaries from a more permissive attitude toward sexuality and sexual orientation.

                  Sounds like Evangelical Culture War with Rosaries and Latin Masses.

                  On both banks of the Tiber, Christians are just as messed-up sexually as everyone else.

              • thatotherjean says

                I’m absolutely certain that there have always been homosexual priests in a celibate priesthood, but it’s grossly unjust to blame homosexual priests for the abuse of altar boys (or girls). Pedophilia is not the same thing as homosexuality, AT ALL. Conflating them perpetuates a convenient lie, but it’s still a lie.

                • Christiane says

                  Good comment, thatotherjean, thank you!

                • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                  But that’s been The Party Line of Christianese Culture War:
                  Teh Fags(TM) are After Your Christian Children.

                  Never mind that RL same-sex pedos identify as Straight. Apparently they key on the FEMININE characteristics of a pre-pubescent male: smooth skin with minimal body hair, total lack of facial hair, high-pitched soprano/contralto voice, inconspicuous external genitalia. Not really male, ergo NOT Homosexuality. Wipe mouth, announce “I have not sinned”, repeat.

    • Christiane says

      I think Francis is a product of Vatican II.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Which automatically means the trads will have the knife out for him.

        Some trads don’t acknowledge any Pope since Pius XII; the real fringies even elect their own True Pope (see sidebar in Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies for Dummies for details of a few).

  9. Robert F says

    No matter who presides at whatever form the altar takes, such adaptations of Eucharistic observance return to the theological essence of the sacrament. Christ is experienced not through the officiant but through the faith of the whole community. “For where two or three are gathered in my name,” Jesus said, “there am I in the midst of them.”

    Yes. Just try to stop Jesus from being in our midst when we are gathered in his name. No number of cardinals or popes or religious professionals can stop him, though, God knows, some of them have tried so very hard to stop him.

  10. john barry says

    It is not a good thing for the world to see the decline of the Catholic Church in the first world countries. The RCC is such an integral part of western civilization and I cannot visualize world history without the presence of the RCC.
    As others have noted the RCC is going and doing quite well in less developed parts of the world as is the more fundamental faiths. This goes back to my belief that many in the west believe they no longer need the influence and teachings of religion that secular man can set the foundation needed for a workable society. We will see.
    I hope the RCC can remain a relevant voice in the affairs of the world. I know and have known so many faithful, trusting and “good” Catholics who loved their Church and added so much to the community. Certainly not a good thing for one of the pillars of the civilized world to be going though such turmoil.
    My own personal opinion and it is from someone with a shallow knowledge of the RCC workings is that the current Pope is not the forceful, true defender of the teachings and traditions of the RCC, that is needed. You cannot have a leader of any type of faith based organization who does not defend the very basics of the faith and creates doubt in the faithful on where the church stands. The Pope should not have to many gray areas in his communications. The cooperation with Communist China does not bode well for the RCC in China.
    I do think the way the RCC handled and fail to come to terms with the sex abuse issue was a major, perhaps mortal blow to church authority. It seems the leaders forgot who the church really was .

    • thatotherjean says

      John, perhaps the present Pontiff isn’t a forceful defender of the teachings and traditions of the RCC because he believes that some of them are wrong? No church is perfect, either in its practices or its doctrine, and the Roman Catholic Church has had a long, long time for error to creep in and take root in both. It seems to me that “doubt in the faithful” is a good thing, and that blind faith in religious leaders–of whatever stripe–is a mistake.

      I doubt that Pope Francis will succeed in correcting very much within the Church, since he is opposed by powerful conservative forces on the inside, and outsiders like Steve Bannon; but I wish him luck. The ongoing sex abuse scandal highlights the need for structural reforms, but as Matthew, above, points out, Francis,at 82, is not likely to be the one who undertakes them. I hope that his successor(s) continue his efforts, instead of defending the status quo. And I hope that Vatican II can become more than a dead letter, tucked away in a library and ignored.

    • In a way, john barry, what you’re saying is that the Catholic Church now flourishes in places where it performs the same function as it did in medieval Europe. It provides an administrative structure and hierarchy in places where the is little or no other functioning power structure to do this. A large part of the opposition to clericalism, from the Middle Ages onward, was based on the way that the church functioned as a secular power, creating an educational system, adjudicating legal disputes, dividing up property, apportioning public offices, and mediating between regional powers. In places where the King or the Emperor were distant and ineffectual, the Church was the creator and enforcer of order. But in an era where democracy and equality are widely accepted concepts, there’s an even more obvious set of conflicts, and I don’t think that these are going to disappear.
      I don’t think people will be as likely to accept over the long term, the idea that, no matter how many mistakes a man may make, he can never ever be replaced by a more competent or honest woman. And they are even less likely to accept a structure which, while it provides an orderly and reliable male hierarchy of power, does this by insisting that women simply can’t have the same access to God.
      As others have noted, the problems Carroll has identified — issues of human beings’ relation to God and the place of the church in the struggle for individual power and political power — were present at the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century and they were not resolved then. You could say that the Catholic Church has survived or you could say that it keeps finding new ways to create protestants.

  11. John barry says

    thatotherjean, If the head of the Catholic Church thinks that some of the teachings and traditions of the RCC are wrong should he be the Pope? If that is true and he is the Pope he has the power to change what the RCC has believed for ages. From the little I know about Steve Bannon he thinks the Pope is wrong on the church in China, inclusion of lay people in decision making and the handling of the sex abuse issue.
    If the Pope does not have the authority and power in the RCC, who does? Again, a needed voice for good in the world I wish the RCC well and hope it becomes viable again in the first world.

    • Robert F says

      So, Bannon, a lay person, thinks the pope, a clergy person of the highest rank, that the pope is wrong to include lay people in Church decision-making? On the basis of Bannon’s own position, why should the pope care a fig what his opinion is?

      The incoherence of fascism.

    • thatotherjean says

      If the head of the Catholic Church thinks that some of the teachings and traditions of the RCC are wrong should he be the Pope?

      I hope so, or how else will the Church be changed, short of revolution? The Pope does not work in a vacuum. Unless he wants to endanger the Church, his primary method for introducing change has to be persuasion–of the Cardinals, of the priests, and of the laity. Francis, of course, also has Benedict, the retired Pope, to contend with. Change almost always meets opposition, which takes time to overcome. At 82, Francis isn’t likely to have time to persuade people in the directions he would like to see changes made. I hope his successors continue his work.

      For what it’s worth, I am not Catholic, but I have studied and watched and read a lot of Church history. I’ve always been fascinated by what people think is going to happen to them when they die.

  12. senecagriggs says

    You read about “The Pink Mafia” in Rome wielding much power/influence.
    ________

    Any R.C.C. commenters want to weight in? I’d be interested to hear your insights.

  13. I’m mostly content to leave this discussion to actual Catholics but as far as the abuse scandal goes I must say I still hear a lot of the “a few bad apples” and “it happened a long time ago and it’s been fixed” arguments from catholic laity. There is a real inability on the part of many to face the truth of institutional corruption. Real change it if comes at all will have to start with the laity.

  14. Carroll makes a point in the following statement:

    “But it will always involve deliberate performance of the works of mercy: feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, visiting the sick, striving for justice. These can be today’s chosen forms of the faith. It will involve, for many, unauthorized expressions of prayer and worship—egalitarian, authentic, ecumenical…”

    This can be useful to a lot of us as we seek a place to serve, worship, and be in community with other followers of Jesus.

    • Rick Ro. says

      –> ““But it will always involve deliberate performance of the works of mercy: feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, visiting the sick, striving for justice.”

      If there’s ONE CONSISTENT MESSAGE in the Bible, from OT thru the prophets and to Jesus, it’s just that! Portions of Isaiah are almost written word for word as that, and then repeated by Jesus.

      • David Cornwell says

        And here is where the creeds most consistently fall short, as useful as they are in defining the tenets of our faith.

        Mention feeding the hungry, caring for the poor or striving for justice and so many faces will go blank or else they will pull a ready-to-administer drug test out their back pocket, a work requirement, and a 10-page application. But they also carry a bible and a copy of the constitution.

      • Christiane says

        Rick, the book of Isaiah is sometimes called ‘the fifth gospel’ in the Church

  15. senecagriggs says

    Got the name wrong, it’s the LAVENDER MAFIA

  16. None of this clergy sexual abuse is a Catholic phenomenon.

    The RCC is simply the biggest fish in the pond, the most newsworthy, and the most institutionalized in its failure to deal with the problem. Relocating deviant priests seemed like a good idea at the time because they lacked the imagination—or the compassion for the victims—to improve on that model.

    But read Jeri Massi’s Blog on the Way for her documentation of abuse within Independent Fundamental Baptist churches. According to her, it’s inherent in those churches, and easily hidden because they have no structure of accountability. The pastor and his elders, usually hand-picked and often relatives, tend to cover up the crimes in order to avoid scandal too. Not a Catholic thing.

    In the past couple of years we’re looking at clergy sex abuse in the mega-churches—you know, those bastions of morality and wellsprings of all Christian book best-sellers. They hold to a similar structure as the Independent Fundamental Baptist churches, same lack of accountability, bigger scale.

    Lately I’m reading about sex abuse in Mennonite communities in Bolivia.

    Again: not a Roman Catholic thing.

    • I once had a Pentecostal preacher/ pastor try to work it with me. He invited me to his house for that sole reason, which I find out soon after I arrived. I made a quick exit stage left. I thought about reporting him but it never made it to the point that anything could be reported. This is actually the first I have ever spoken of it. Who knows what went on in his church?!

    • Ted, as a life-long RCC member, I have several comments to this thread.

      First, you hit the bullseye. Abuse is everywhere, in roughly the same proportions as we see it in the RCC. It’s not an RCC thing. It’s a human thing.

      Second, I find it interesting that the commenters largely don’t acknowledge this, but treat it as a RCC-unique phenomenon. Easier to throw stones at others’ institutions, I guess, than to examine their own. Beams and specks.

      Third (and following from the second), one cannot change an institution from the outside, but only from the inside. I remain, despite the abuse, because I love the Church; particularly, the RCC, for all it offers. This blog has frequently documented some of what it offers. It’s founder quoted Merton and enjoyed retreats at a an RCC monastery. His wife joined the RCC. I don’t want to lose all the RCC offers. And the only way to keep it is to not abandon it, to work within it to heal it. And because he is not willing to do this, I sense some other motive or agenda in Carroll’s approach.

      All that said, I largely agree with the main points about clericalism. Indeed, many RCC priests have said the same thing. Flatten the hierarchy. Do away with any hierarchy above the bishops. Do away with the trappings. We will lose none of the essentials by doing so, and the resulting simplicity would bring us closer to walking as Jesus did.

      • Christiane says

        “And the only way to keep it is to not abandon it, to work within it to heal it. And because he is not willing to do this, I sense some other motive or agenda in Carroll’s approach.”

        Jess, I have thought about this possibility, and I hope it’s not true (concerning Carroll).

        His frustration is shared by many, but most of these others have determined to stay and work for good to come. Maybe Carroll will find his way safely past the wolves like Bannon and maybe he will drawn in, I don’t know; but I wish him well that if there is some chance for him to return to the Church, he will be able to do it some day. In any case, I hope he finds peace.

        as for ‘trappings’ and doing away with them, there is and always has been in the Church various groups that live simply and have embraced a voluntary poverty and also ’embraced the leper’ . . . . . some quite dramatically, but many just living lives of service and looking after those who are helpless or sick. The ‘bling’ just isn’t ‘there’ so much in the Church as people think . . . . the art is priceless . . . . and much is of ‘world heritage’ quality. The real wealth of the Church is in its people (including the laity). And if in them, there has been wrong done; also in them will come a response to change the wrong-doing and try to make amends in so far as is possible, though some of the pain only God can heal.

      • Robert F says

        @Jess, You are characterizing what Carroll said. He has not abandoned the RCC; if you read his linked article, you will see that he is remaining in the Roman Catholic Church with the intention of making common cause with other Roman Catholics who want to reform it, as he does. That he has stopped attending Mass since 2018 does not mean he has stopped considering himself Roman Catholic. In the article, he explicitly says that he is pursuing different strategies for remaining Catholic, ones that are not defined and controlled, and may not be accepted by the religious hierarchy of the Church. He has positioned himself in relation to the RCC in much the same way as those evangelicals here at iMonk who have become alienated from much of evangelicalism but intend to remain and reorient their relationship to evangelicalism — he is spending a season, however long or short, in the wilderness. He is most emphatically not leaving the Church — you have no reason, on that count, to suspect some other motive or agenda in Carroll’s criticism of the Church.

        • Robert F says

          Correction: @Jess, You are mischaracterizing what Carroll said…

        • As a Roman Catholic, cutting oneself off from the mass—the Eucharist—means cutting oneself off from the Source of spiritual sustenance. One can do everything else he says he wants to do and still receive the Eucharist. Indeed—again, as a Roman Catholic—my own experience says one MUST receive the Eucharist to have the spiritual strength to continue the fight. That he does otherwise makes me wonder about his motives, all his other statements notwithstanding. (Other evidence in the Atlantic article as well, but I don’t want to get off the main point.)

          • Robert F says

            From his linked article, CArroll indicates that he is seeking Eucharist from channels outside the channel of the ordained priesthood. He rejects the control of the sacramental gifts by the religious hierarchy, and believes that the priesthood of the laity is adequate for the celebration of the Sacraments. Now, you may reject that as legitimate Catholicism, because you reject the idea that the laity can be an adequate channel of the Sacraments; he would say it is exactly the dependency of the laity on the ordained priesthood, and by extension the religious hierarchy, that has allowed the hierarchy to suppress the laity. After all, if the religious hierarchy has a monopoly on the gifts needed to continue the fight, as you say, they have and will continue to have tremendous power over the laity — it is exactly this that Carroll is rejecting, and this vision of what Catholicism requires that he rejects.

            • Which makes my original third point: that he does this from outside the institution—ex communio—and so can never hope to change it. The groups with which he celebrates may be Christian, but are by definition not Roman Catholic. And never—NEVER—in the 2000-year history of the Roman Catholic church has a church crisis been resolved by a group that has separated itself from the church for such a purpose. Never.

              • Robert F says

                You define the institution as the clergy, or a part of it — that means the true identity of the Church is centered in the religious hierarchy. As a result, the Church could continue to exist, even if laity did not exist, because laity is superfluous to the Church’s identity. Given such a definition of the identity of the Church, of course no one who doesn’t obey the religious hierarchy has been able to resolve a Church crisis; the system has been rigged against them, since all the religious hierarchy has to do is declare them ex communio, and refuse to serve them the sacraments. As long as the clergy possess that sacramental monopoly, the needed reform can never happen. Game over. As someone said in the comments somewhere above, Rome continues to find new ways to create Protestants.

      • Patriciamc says

        Jess, many other blogs have commented on sexual abuse in the Protestant churches, and many people here are regular commenters on those blogs. As others have stated, the RCC is one institution while there are many Protestant ones, so on the Protestant side of things, abuse is, for the lack of a better word, diluted. No one here, though, thinks this is just a Catholic problem.

    • Robert F says

      @Ted — True. It is “not a Roman Catholic thing.” By the same token, it is not an evangelical thing. The point is that, all the things that many of the alienated and post-evangelicals here at iMonk admire about the Catholic Church — its traditional liturgy, its mystical theology, it historical rootedness, its focus on the sacraments, its appreciation of the arts and the senses, its monastic traditions, etc. (btw, things that I as an estranged Roman Catholic also find attractive about Catholicism) — have not prevented bad religion from being as much a problem in Roman Catholicism as in evangelicalism, and have not prevented the spiritual and psychological devastation that come from it. In short, those things have not made a healthier Christianity, nor, I would contend, have they made better Christians.

      • Robert F says

        The one place where I would say that Catholicism has arguably produced a healthier Christianity and better Christians is exactly in those things that Carroll loves about his Church, and why he intends to remain Catholic — “the sacrificial love and service by which legions of ‘selfless women and men care for the poor, teach the unlettered, heal the sick, and work to preserve minimal standards of the common good.'” This kind of charity and love has largely come out of the religious orders, semi-monastic and non-monastic; but we must keep in mind that many of these were started and continue to be led by religious mavericks and rebels who had and have to buck against the Catholic religious hierarchy to do their good works. They took seriously the standing orders that Jesus gave to love our neighbors and enemies in the most concrete and practical ways imaginable; but then, so do the Quakers, and many in mainline Protestant Christianity, and many non-religious people, and even some evangelicals. That’s not just a Catholic thing, either

      • All churches, all religions, all institutions are populated entirely by sinners. Putting RCC priests on pedestals does not make them less sinners; in fact, it probably adds to the problem. Thats why I agree that the pedestals of clericalism must go. As Michael Spencer emphasized so many times, we must keep our focus on Jesus so as to do as he did. “I came, not to be served, but to serve.” A Jesus-shaped spirituality allows me to do that, but from the inside.

  17. My wife and I stopped going about two years ago without much discussion or fanfare. Kind of odd. While I have cherished the mass intently over time I have always gone as the follower. Prior to marriage I left evangelicalism and went nowhere. This was mostly my wife saying, “I’m done! It’s just not in me. I don’t want to go anymore.” We’ve been to Christmas and Easter. We still send our money monthly. Like I said , odd.

  18. Andrew Zook says

    As someone way outside of and never in the RC church, but attracted to a few of its strength’s I find Carroll’s doom & gloom saddening. And I would hate to see it, in reaction, pick up the ills of Protestantism. To me the RC has great potential, but it has this: “My five years in the priesthood, even in its most liberal wing, gave me a fetid taste of this caste system. Clericalism, with its cult of secrecy, its theological misogyny, its sexual repressiveness, and its hierarchical power based on threats of a doom-laden afterlife, is at the root of Roman Catholic dysfunction.” In a really banal way, it boils down to sex…
    And thinking about this some more brought my mind to my own ancestry, the Amish. They too have great potential and do, in their way shine a pretty distinctive counter-cultural Light; but they too, despite having married clergy, still have this “cult of secrecy, its theological misogyny, its sexual repressiveness” and they too, although less publicly are dealing with a pervasive dysfunction, that often revolves around sex. There’s pain, shame, guilt, fear and secrecy and it’s only very recently that seeking professional help has become somewhat acceptable. Before then, most if not all problems arising from this culture of dysfunction, were either not dealt with at all or fumbled and botched by local church leaders (bishops)… (My extended family history is rife with dysfunction in this area and little to nothing was ever done). In many ways it’s a very debilitating Achilles heal… and all too often the path leaned toward is to double down on the guilt, fear and repressiveness… rather than a thorough examination and search for something that is both holy, gracious and healthy; a better theology of the body and sex and earthly embodiment, redeemed through Christ. The Amish or the RC church are not the only ones dealing with this, but given Carroll’s assessment, the issue and its consequences are especially acute now.

  19. I think most of the dysfunction detailed here is inherent to hierarchies and administration, and not specific to the, or a, church. Abuse of power is a permanent risk in a hierarchy, and any bureaucracy will bend towards defending itself more than whatever it was originally intended to do.

    Another reason for celibacy was avoiding dynasties of priests. In this day and age there would be easier ways to resolve this.

    I’m totally unconvinced that celibacy has anything at all to do with paedophilia. (And problems in non-celibate churches would tend to confirm this).

    • Robert F says

      Celibacy isn’t the problem. Secrecy control of the Church through clerical monopoly of the sacraments is the problem.

  20. Johnny W says

    People have been writing the obituary of the Catholic Church for over 2,000 years. It’s not going away.